Toes Incorporated [Jan 10: + A Memory, Sundered]

For Warhammer fiction not strictly from either universe.

Toes Incorporated [Jan 10: + A Memory, Sundered]

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:11 pm

This will serve as my own mini-Librarium/collection, with the addition of a number of short stories and RiaR/workshop entries that otherwise might get lost in the murk of the interwebz. There should be something as-of-yet unseen for everyone in here, even if it's just a half-thousand word scribble about orbital bombardments.

Enjoy!

Color Key:

Warhammer 40k
Warhammer Fantasy
40k related to Taros Vutch
40k related to Plaything


Table of Contents: (click on any story to be linked to the corresponding post in this thread)

1) Help Me [1k words] [RiaR: Desperation winner]
Marcius Cognomen lives a blessed life as a scribe furthering the Holy Work. Nonetheless, not everyone is cut out for such a heavy duty...

2) Doll (Gives a Kiss) [1k words] [Riar: Fury entry]
Tyranids would be bad enough. However, Commissar Dolina Rathrack also has to deal with her notoriously unruly charges, the Catachan Jungle Fighters, whose commissars tend to have "accidents."

3) Padre Sawbones [1k words] [RiaR: Atonement entry]
The Armageddon Steel Legion is full of veterans. Hear this one's tale during the court-martial.

4) Son of Nagarythe [3k words]
Elthuviar, a Shadow Warrior, strikes against the druchii for revenge after the murder of his family.

5) Blood Tribute [3k words]
Nobody knows better than Bloodchief Alvar how hard life in in Norscaa. When a new threat sweeps across the tribes, though, a foe his tribe cannot defeat, does he have the strength of will to do what must be done?

6) Gehemisnacht [2k words] [Forest competition entry]
Marie wanted a quiet life. Beastmen had already burnt down her town once, and now she just wanted to raise her baby boy in peace. But then a strange minstrel appears...

7) Take Your Medicine! [1k words] [RiaR: Edge entry]
Taros Vutch, underhiver, is on the run for his life when he hits a dead-end. Thuck.

8) Castigation [2k words]
Some time after the story Spyderweb (and relatively unrelated), Taros and his companions have to face the consequences of their failure to save his hive. [story fragment]

9) Survivor [1k words] [HOES #3: Betrayal winner (Heresy-Online)]
Taros has served the Inquisition for years, now. However, the last test he must pass is also the most painful. [no longer accurate to the character arc I have planned out for Taros]

10) Alone [.5k words]
The prelude to Plaything, in which Primaris Psyker Sheka Scouras shares how she views the world...and her minder.

11) Morale [1k words]
Trapped, surrounded, and cut off, Commissar Alexos must see to it that morale stays high. That, though, is a rather fatiguing duty.

12) Under the Spreading Pluquat Tree [1k words] [RiaR: Shattered Dream entry]
Alexos and his fiancee Sheka Scouras are living a dream. All dreams, however, must eventually come to an end...

13) The Voices of the Dead [2k words]
Bray-Shaman Mhodru's apprentices have become uppity. His superiority is being challenged more every passing day. This gor still has a few tricks hidden behind his ear, however.

14) Apotheosis [1k words] [Riar: Ancient Wonder winner]
The Eternal Zealot is an a venerable ship, and has triumphantly fought in service to the Imperium for six long millennia. Now, though, pierced by the lances of eldar corsairs, it is dying...

15) Remembrance [1.5k words] [HOES: The End winner]
Corporal Vonsky, last survivor of the Vostroyan Firstborn 114th, flees across the ice wastes. He must survive, for he carries with him the knowledge, which must be recorded, of how his brethren died...

16) To Comprehend (It Matters Not) [1k words] [HOES: Annihilation winner]
A world dies, and with it, ten billion. Can you truly imagine so many deaths?

17) Upon Reflection [1k words] [RiaR: Hunter 2nd place entry]
Chazia the Perverse is assassinated. He is assassinated, right?

18) Dutiful Ignorance [1k words] [RiaR: Bitterness entry]
An Inquisitor lectures on the sins of hope and knowledge.

19) Iocouno Station (Abridged) [1k words] [RiaR: Turning winner]
Daemons! Horrific, unknowable, and cruel. Foreman Lhyme could do without, thanks.
*NOTE: This story can be found in an extended cut edition (which I am rather more proud of) here.

20) How Fragile the Skein [1k words] [RiaR: Undone entry]
A wounded PDF trooper wonders how long she has until she dies.

21) A Memory, Sundered [1k words] [HOES: Innocence winner; RiaR: Silence entry]
Kher'Ys, a craftworld of the Eldar, has fallen to Slaanesh. See here the aftermath of such devastation.

(approx. wordcount total: 28k words)


Longer Stories:
(click on any story to be linked to the corresponding thread. Some will lead to the old forum rather than this one)

Iocouno Station [4k words] [horror]
Foreman Lhyme is having a very bad day. A very, very bad day. It starts with daemons tearing apart his workers, and only gets worse from there on out...
NOTE: this story can also be found in an abridged form among the short stories posted on this thread.

The One-Eyed King [12k words]
When Brother Sergeant Ogion of the Angels of Vengeance falls to the planet of Kyvol from an orbital battle in the heavens, the members of the Sub-Abbey Castus scramble to nurse him back to health. But all is not as it seems, and are the forces coming to recover him his brethren, or the forces of Chaos?
- Colonel Mustard says, "As well as being being superlatively written, it was quintessentially 40K throughout, capturing the baroque, gothic, insane majesty of the 40K-verse..."

Spyderweb [6k words]
Kay Vutch, her twin brother Taros, and her younger brother just want to live a quiet life in the underhive. Is that too much to ask? They get their answer when a deal goes wrong: yes, apparently.

Infestation [5k words]
Palatine d'Raia and her Sisters are weary. They have been fighting too long; they have been stretched too far. Now, however, they are called to one final battle, in which the stakes have been raised immeasurably. Not only are they fighting to defend the Imperium, now, but also the honor and reputation of their entire Order.

Hope's Price [30k words]
Ghuto and his nephew Poc are on the run across the southern Empire, hounded by beastmen and worse. Ghuto knows that he must go to any means necessary to stop his brother, Poc's father, from getting his hands on the boy...the mutant child. [Archive; inferior quality]

Plaything [75k words]
Commissar Montra Alexos and his ex-fiancee, the Sanctioned Psyker Sheka Scouras, have come with the Imperial Guard to purge the heretical Hive Janendor. A darkness waits for the Imperial forces, however, and soon their psykers begin to vanish, reappearing on the other side of the lines...
- Eremite says, "One of the best pieces of fanfiction I've read here or elsewhere."
- J D Dunsany says, "It's the sort of baroque gothic romanticism that 40K is all about. Or should be, at any rate."



Other results of my shameless ego-pandering:

- Chun the Unavoidable says, "I look forward to whatever epic you will next put your highly promising pen to."
- Pipitán says, "I can't think of anyone here - save perhaps Chun - whose writing is more deserving of publication."
Last edited by Mossy Toes on Thu Jan 10, 2013 8:18 am, edited 34 times in total.
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Phalanx » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:16 pm

That's a good idea mate. Worth perhaps linking in your signature for ease-of-use.

Hopefully one day I will be able to have something like this, but I only have one item at the moment :)
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:22 pm

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Help Me

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Marcius Cognomen was a blessed man. He knew this because he had been told this. He had been told that he was blessed because he had been granted a bed upon which to sleep, because he supped twice daily upon meals which were rarely not provided, and mostly because he did the Holy Work.

He was a Scribe, and his official designation was Canticles MMMCXIX: Book of Saint Marcius Vladistus Insert-Cognomen-Here. That was his Holy Work, and he did it as his masters expected: flawlessly. Each day, he took his quill-stylus, dipped it, and began his work. He did not need to blot, as to make an error was a concept beyond his understanding.

He was not exceptional in his work. He simply obeyed his Masters, as did all of his fellows, all of his fellow members of the Holy Work. He was familiar with many faces amongst the Canticle Wing, but not names. His masters frowned upon fraternization, as it distracted and imbalanced the mind.

Faint whimpers came from the desk behind him, again. He ignored them. Ignoring what he wasn't supposed to hear or see was very easy.

Marcius continued his work without having stopped, or even wavered. Eventually, after an indistinct amount of time, he came to the end of the volume, all four thousand, eight hundred and thirty-two Canticles of Marcius. He let the last ink dry, closed the volume, and set it gently beside him in the Basket of Retrieval. Eventually, it would be collected. Meanwhile, he opened the next volume and began fill out the foreword and the table of contents.

In doing this work, his soul was fed. He wasn't sure of many things, but he was sure of that. Deacon Celestius told them that every morning after they came in and sat down. Celestius droned his sermon in that selfsame monotone every day, then stood, silent, at his pulpit until closing. Then his pallid flesh jerked into motion once again, and the prerecorded message came blaring from his necrotic lips, always the exact same words. Deacon Celestius was a comfort to his flock, even now, long after he had been servitorized.

Feet marched along the aisle way beside him. Heavy, booted feet—not the slippered shuffle of the Retrievers. It was the Enforcers, then, the Brown-Coats. Those were the only two types of Servants allowed in the room, apart from the Deacon and the Scribes, obviously.

Muffled thuds behind him. He finished the dedication, penned in perfect calligraphy. Cloth tore, and there was a gasping sob. Another Brown-Coat strode past Marcius to the desk behind him. Satisfied that the ink was dry, he gently turned the page and wrote the opening title and heading.

The two Brown-Coats walked past Marcius again, carrying a struggling figure. He set his quill down for until they had passed and capped his inkwell—it would not do to be jostled and to spill.

They carried Domopho Kilourne, the woman who sat behind him: Canticles MMMCXX: Book of Father Domopho Regenine Kilourne. Or rather, had used to. Her first Disturbance had resulted in the loss of her tongue; this being her second, she would return. She would be replaced, now, by another Domopho Kilourne.

Her shirt was torn open, revealing the flesh beneath, and her nose was crushed and gouting blood. It turned out to have been prudent of Marcius to have closed his inkwell. As Domopho was carried past, her arm reached out and snared the leg of his wooden desk, jolting its balance precariously. He gazed impassionately at her.

Help me, she mouthed desperately, voicelessly. Help me help me help me don't let them take me away. I need your help.

He gazed at her without moving. A dribblet of blood splattered noiselessly from her crushed nostril to the desktop, but, blessedly, didn't hit any parchment. One breast flopped against the wood.

The Brown-Coats pried her fingers loose with muffled curses and carried her away. Marcius looked down and carefully laid a page of blotting paper over the fallen drops of blood.

The image of the breast lingered in his mind for several moments more. Mammary gland, he thought. Storage for infant sustenance, and related to a major portion of maternal-filial bonding: wet-feeding. His early teachings in the Schola Infantus, before the Masters had chosen his vocation, had taught him that much.

He did not remember his own mother. He had taken away as soon as he had been weaned, “to prevent unnecessary partnerships from forming, and tempting the darkness,” the Masters said. Their methods were without error.

He opened his inkwell again, dipped his quill, and began writing the First Canticle of Marcius. This time, he murmured the first lines, as they seemed especially fitting for the moment.

“Verse One:
Praise to Saint Alicia Dominica,
For she is all-nurturing, all-caring;
Let her shelter us in times of need,
Let her raise us with the fervor of His Word,
Let her never be forgotten from our minds, or replaced,
For she is our Divine Mother,
And in Her sheltering arms we need no other.”


His faint whisper died, and around him, as far as the darkness extended in all directions, the Holy Work continued. The scratching of quills continued in their tiny, desperate worlds, never to rest. Next to his right hand, the red stain that had appeared through the blotting paper began to spread.

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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:24 pm

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Doll (Gives a Kiss)

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“Whoever thought up a joke like that has a sick and unusual sense of humor,” hissed Commissar Dolina Rathrak. She wrenched her sleeve free from the thorn bush on which it had snagged.

“That?” asked Adjunct Ridlie, beside her, “or...all of that? Having been assigned here at all?”

“What do you think?” she asked, fixing the collar of her greatcoat as they strode through the darkness toward the edge of the camp. “Both, of course. They'll never let me forget yesterday and the snake, though. Blasted Baby Ogryns. They have the brains to match.”

They drew to a halt as they reached the barricades. The rest of Ridlie's patrol was already assembled, armed and camo-painted. Ridlie was by no means a small man, but he was dwarfed by the massive, heavily-muscled Catachan guardsmen.

“Don't sweat for me, commissar,” Ridlie said glancing at the patrol squad. “I'll watch my back. Besides, it's only two days from now that I'll be back. Not like one of the two or three week sweeps. Hardly a chance to run into any bugs.”

She nodded, and he turned to join the waiting Catachans. They slipped away into the jungle like wraiths, vanishing without a trace, and Ridlie crashed away into the undergrowth after them.

She turned, shrugged, and made her way off through the camp. The regiment was about as disciplined as a herd of feral grox, but the fame and the physical bulkiness of the Swamp Shadows were both impressive. If only they didn't have such a bad reputation with commissars—which was well-earned, she had come to learn. If anything, they acted even more slovenly and indolent in her presence than outside of it. It didn't help that she, being only 162 centimeters tall, was nearly a half meter shorter than virtually all of her charges.

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“Sir, I wish to lodge a complaint!”

Colonel Rasso lifted his eyebrows. “Well?” he replied, looking at her over his makeshift desk and his booted feet. “Shoot.”

“Your Throne-damned Catachans killed him!”

Rasso's jaws clamped down on his unlit cigar, leisurely grinding off the end and chewing. “Did they, now?” he said noncommittally. “Who would 'he' be, then?”

“You know damn well that I'm talking about my adjunct! He was the veteran of a dozen warfronts. He wouldn't just trip and fall off of a cliff that he had miraculously not seen!”

“So you think my boys did him in?” drawled Rasso, continuing to chew. “Come, now. That's a mighty hefty accusation to be swinging about. The jungle's a fair treacherous place. Can't hardly see your hand a dozen centimeters from your face at times, Doll. Or a snake.”

Dolina bristled and banged her knuckles down on either side of his boots. “Doll?” she hissed. “You will refer to me by my given title, Colonel, and nothing else.”

“Sure thing,” he replied impassively, spitting out a wad of mangled cigar.

“Sure thing, commissar,” she snapped. “That is what you say.”

He nodded and bit another length from his cigar. She wheeled and stormed off, not caring that by showing her temper so, he won.

+

The platoon filled the briefing tent with the stench of stale sweat.

Dolina lectured on the importance of the new fleet-side bulletins. It meant that more than mere seeder organisms were going to make it planetside; those few Hive Ships that had made it into orbit were landing their vile spawn, and it was up to the Shadows to deny them an easy meal.

Whether or not the Shadows would to survive until the reinforcement fleet arrived...well, that was up in the air. But they could make a whole lot of noise before being eaten, and that they would do.

It had been going well enough, actually, until a comment had been muttered about a doll. This sparked Dolina's fury, again. She placed the culprit by his voice right away.

“Is that so, Trooper Sim?” she asked.

“Miss?” replied Sim, feigning surprise.

"Get over here," she hissed. He picked his way forward to loom over her. “You don't seem to be all that concerned with the encroaching Tyranids.”

“We've gotten our share of lictors and 'stealers, miss. I'm just eager to get to grips with the rest of the squigglies.”

“Give me two hundred push-ups, now. You will receive one lash for each that you don't complete.” He snorted contemptuously and dropped, beginning to rapidly pump out the allotted amount.

She sat on his back and he grunted, his arms buckling. “What's the problem, trooper?” she asked. “I didn't give you leave to slow down. A simple doll shouldn't weigh you down one Throne-damned bit, should it? I'm counting.”

+

The patrols had been recalled, and the last of them were trickling back into the camp. The Shadows were readying themselves for battle, fixing emplacements and shoring up barricades. Contingencies had been lain for a scattering retreat and guerrilla warfare, but Dolina didn't think that would be necessary. They'd all be surrounded—and, shortly after, dead—before that became an option.

She strode the length of the camp, bitterly satisfied over the wariness with which she was now treated. She had assigned a few more strenuous punishments after Sim, to others who had been disrespectful, and it had felt good indeed to vent her spleen over the whipping post.

Raucous laughter drew her attention. She strode in the direction of its origin, hearing Colonel Rasso speaking to one of the newly returned patrols:

“...snake. You had to be there. We hear a shriek, see, and she comes running out of the bathhouse stark naked, dripping wet, only to find all her clothes missing. She had to run all the way across the—hey! Motte! What was—a-ha.”

Rasso met Dolina's gaze and cleared his throat. In his eyes, at least, derision still ruled supreme. “Hello, Doll. I hear tell something about sixty-three lashes for my boy Sim, and more for others. You're a right little terror, aren't you?”

She grabbed him by his shirt and dragged his face down to her level. He stared back at her, their faces almost touching.

“I told you not to call me that,” she hissed, and gave him a Catachan Kiss.

The headbutt broke his nose with a satisfying crunch and he staggered back. She turned and stalked away, wolf whistles and compliments following her. A smile twitched at her lips.

+
Last edited by Mossy Toes on Thu Nov 10, 2011 4:14 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:28 pm

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Padre Sawbones

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Atonement?

Don't speak to me of atonement. I've poured my soul into atoning, all the mercy and compassion that I have in my heart.

And do you know what gets me the most? How grateful they are, that we sit here and do nothing more than hear them out. Praise be, hail the Him on Terra, you are atoned, let's call in the commissar. Though as often as not, a bolt isn't needed to finish off the poor bleeders.

This one time, for instance. This was back between Two and Three, before it became clear that the Beast would be back. We were out on Piscina, picking up the pieces afterward, and this guy's regiment got torn to shreds. He was one of three to make it out alive. By the time I got to him, he was the only one left—injuries and rot had done for the other two.

This boy kept calling for “Federen,” his tent mate. Federen, of course, was dead. Hadn't even made it off the planet, in fact. But the poor bastard was so feverish that I could take Federen's place by the bedside and he couldn't tell the difference.

Turns out they'd promised each other not to die. They were going to head off to some deserted backwater and be deviants, or something. It was all he could do to mumble that he was sorry that he couldn't keep his end of the deal.

He died there, holding my hand. I don't really know when—his grip just slackened, bit by bit. I didn't even feel his hand fall away from mine at the end, when he finally let go.

'Course, that was when I had only just begun my career. There were all the long years between then and Three to have to deal with, and then, well, the past two years, too.

Two years of hell. Two years of such an endless procession of corpses that mountains of bone can now be erected in any hive on the planet. Two years of such rivers of blood that the Ash Wastes themselves have over-gorged, and spit it back out in disgust. What hath man and xenos wrought but such a ruin as this, eh?

Since it began, I haven't had a solid night's sleep. Fighting, being on the move, and fighting on the move. That's my life. The few hours I have managed to grab, here and there, haven't been all that restful, either.

I haven't had to serve in the trenches and in the field, sure. I can thank the Emperor and an accident in the reconstruction of Hades for that. I never was high enough to rate a bionic replacement, so there's my armless sleeve and twisted leg. So there's old Padre Sawbones, hobbling his way to the next poor sap who got his face bitten off by a Nob.

It's curious, I suppose, my mess of skills as a medic and a priest. My beliefs—well, they've taken something of a battering over time. You might say that my faith is a tad bit tarnished, after watching a generation fed into the Munitorum and right back out as spools of ground meat. But I came into the job not knowing an artery from a vein, so there's an improvement. Not that I'm all that great a help at the operating table, what with having only one hand, and all.

There was that time the medicae had a heart attack, though. I had to clench off the posterior tibial of the poor bugger being operated on until a replacement arrived, with my hand. I didn't let him lose a drop more of blood. A minor miracle, I suppose—though that's all we get out here. Minor ones, never major ones.

Of course, by that time, the medicae himself was dead. Take what's handed to you, 'cause that's all the Emperor is giving.

Now then. Enough about me. The colonel.

I'll freely admit to not having liked him. He was a vindictive, sadistic bastard. He—warp, he made me abandon my whole flock of crippled lambs when we were pulled off Infernus Quay. Yes, we had to get out before the Gargants trampled it into a mush. Yes, he had to make the call. I get that.

He saved us, again; as much of the regiment as he could. Wasn't the first or the last time, by any means. Doesn't mean that I have to like him or the choices that he made, though.

Then he also ordered the execution of our head doctor, too, when we couldn't save the life of Captain Breasts—sorry, Captain Brenst. It wasn't our fault that she choked on...that, was it?


Heh, and you should have seen the faces of the new blood whenever we merged with another regiment to keep up strength. The third time, for example. I think that was the time he gave the boys the speech about “riding those Orks like they're your new sweetie.” Their expressions were caught somewhere between horror, embarrassment, and amusement. Until he started giving practical demonstrations.

He and the commissars got on famously, of course. No fear from that man, for the enemy or the black-coats. He should have been a commissar himself. The whole issue with spit-shining our section of the dirt trench—I've never seen a man so happy to be holding an electro-whip.

You know for yourself just how sane he was. Serving under him was...a calculated danger. We knew he would keep us alive to kill himself, rather than letting the Orks finish us off. And he was really coming apart there, near the end.

Case in point: his last hospitalization. Who puts a shotgun down their pants and gallops around the camp firing into the air? Even he knew that the recoil would have some nasty repercussions.

It's hardly my fault if his bandages were applied sloppily, was it? And that he bled out when it was just the two of us alone, him giving his ribald "confession"?

All he did was crack rude jokes right to the very end, you know. His favorite—he kept repeating it—was about a bionic replacement for his...damaged goods. Oh, and don't get me started on what he said about Sergeant-Major Drake and the regrettable Ice-World of Juridicae.

Then his bandages unraveled themselves, I suppose.

So don't go asking Padre Sawbones if he's sorry for anything he's done in his long and illustrious career in the Armageddon Steel Legion 11,104th Armored Regiment. Atonement? To warp with that.

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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:29 pm

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[Post redacted]

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Last edited by Mossy Toes on Thu Apr 05, 2012 1:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:31 pm

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Son of Nagarythe

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Sweat.

Silence.

I ran forward—not the lumbering, clumping run of a human. The breeze rustled as it blew past, making more noise than my footsteps. Ingrained by the drilling of decades, the training of my tutor and father, Taleryn, took over.

A Dark Elven sentry lay ahead, and I felt a surge of hatred flow through my veins—but I could not kill him. His absence would be noticed.

I pulled up behind a twisted, blackened tree. The faint ‘crunch' of feet on leaves met my ears. I waited until it faded, and he passed me on his rounds.

Again, the run continued. Noiseless as a drifting shadow, I passed through the Druchii lines. Ahead lay a dark stain upon the starless night, my target. The tower of Hazoth-Shur, where the Sorceress Nosirai Thali practiced her dark art. My mouth soured at the mere thought of the witch, and I let the bitterness flow through my body.

Before this excursion, I swore that I would kill her. Whether to my blade or to my bow, she would meet her end tonight. For Taleryn's memory, and for the others of my kin who suffered at her hands.

I threw myself behind a pile of rocks and waited as another sentry picked its way by through the bushes. The tower loomed above me, a dark, cruel pinnacle of twisted metal and stone. Fearful spikes adorned the walls, more than a few rammed through the corpses Nosarai's ‘experiments'.

I will avenge you, my kinsmen.

A row of these metal barbs descended to the foot of the tower near my latest hiding spot. I looked around and, seeing no more sentries or hidden observation platforms, ran to them. After that, it was child's play to haul myself up.

I hung my dark cloak behind me to camouflage my ascent from any lookers from below. Upon wings of righteous fury, I climbed. Halfway up the tower I paused, seeing a maw-like balcony jutting out beside me. I swung my arms over the railing and, silent as a ghost, slithered over. A red, gossamer curtain billowed silently in the wafting breeze, obscuring whatever lay within. Listening intently, I heard a faint moan. This was not a moan of pleasure or pique, but a heartfelt groan of despair. It was an Elven voice, a voice I remembered clearly.

Taleryn. My father was still alive.

I could not continue up the wall. I could not leave my father in some torture-chamber if he was still alive. My hand extended to the curtain, trembling. I lowered it.

My father could wait. My mission was to kill the witch, not rescue any survivors. I had no way of knowing who else might be in that room, no way to guarantee that I could still accomplish my mission with an injured Elf, even an Elf as skilled as my father, in tow.

I will return, father. I swear it.

Sorrowfully, heartbreakingly, I left my father and continued climbing the ridge of black spines. I could not even dare whisper through the curtain for fear of alerting any Druchii guard that might be in my father's cage-room. Tears tracked down my face as I grasped spike over spike and hauled myself upwards.

She would pay for this.

+

The credo of the Shadow Warrior ran through my head as I reached the window. Two arm's length above me, sentries patrolled the ramparts.

Strike unseen from the shadow,

I jumped, falling noiselessly to the lip of the casement. I landed with the faintest of whispers, silk across an uneven floor.

Without warning or mercy,

Quickly, wraithlike, I ghosted through the window's red veil. I dropped a few feet to the inner floor. Inside, the deep swirls of magenta and ocher blended around me. A thorned throne of purest amethyst sat silently, emptily in the far side of the auditorium that I had entered.

Without pity or contempt;

Chairs radiated out from the dais like petals from an intricate flower. In a single column of moonlight, drawn from a hidden skylight, stood my target, alone.

Strike with poisoned blade or bow,

Pale features against raven-black hair, subtly accentuated with a clinging gown of purple and black. Her back was toward me, and she stood at a plinth with a bowl clasped in manicured fingernails.

With a cloak of silence and darkness,

I slung my bow from my back and silently drew an arrow from my boot. I raised the bow, carefully setting the arrow in place.

With secret craft and cunning guile;

I drew the arrow to my ear, the treated wood of my bow not betraying me with a creak. The fletching of my dart brushed my cheek, and I sighted down its length. Slowly, I release a breath that I had been holding since I came through the window. As I exhaled, I loosened my grip on the string, increment by increment.

Strike against the betrayer.

Everything seemed so far away, and yet the adrenaline pumping through my system burned with the flame of vengeance.

Strike against the traitor.

Time slows. Nosirai set down her scrying bowl and began to turn. I released the arrow.

Strike against our dark kin.

A whirring flash, glinting in the darkness: the hope and purity of the High Elven realm, and the embodiment of our righteous vengeance.

Strike.

An inch from her face, the arrow froze in the air.

She said a single, power-laden word: "Ekri."

I tried to move, to dart out of the way, but an unseen force grabbed me in talons of rending agony. I was shoved, stumbling forward to the floor in the light.

I tried to raise my gaze but the invisible foe yanked at my hair and ripped my head forward. The moonlit tiles filled my gaze.

"Tell me," said a pure voice, clearly and elegantly, "do you really think that you can enter my domain and remain unnoticed? I think that you take me for a fool. I so enjoyed watching you climb my tower's walls, though it was a disappointment that you chose not see what I had done to your fellow scouts. It is... beautiful."

I tried to say something; to curse her and her kin, but claws of pain lanced through my jaws and snapped them shut, biting through the tip of my tongue.

"I won't be having that. Now, I have all sorts of things that I simply must show you..."

Feet appeared in my field of vision, clad in dark, scaly leather boots. A whip cracked. I swore mentally and struggled against my invisible bonds, heedless of the burning pains that wracked my body.

Asuryan, grant me strength!

I stood. A snapping bone, the crackle of tearing tissue. The pain tore through me, a wild beast that shattered my soul and tore out through my lips. I screamed until my mouth was ragged and bloody, but I would not bow before this undeserving witch. The torturous agony exceeded the physically possible, but I remained standing.

An eternity passed, the Sorceress thrusting her will upon me, attempting to make me bow. I would not. I could not, no more than I could abandon my father or leave my kith and kin unavenged. Blows of force shattered my bones, but still I stood.

At last the pain abated somewhat- not gone, oh no, but merely receding to a level of mere unbearability. I clenched my jaws shut, and looked at the witch through blurred eyes.

"Die." I croaked, and staggered toward her.

"Impressive," she gasped breathlessly, exhaustion plain in her voice, "but not enough." Her voice took on a cruel, lilting tone.

"Corothari Shaklavis Summetharil! Elshovani Vanz-Hagorath!"

A bolt of azure energy slammed into me, numbing my right arm, but I paid it no attention. That was nothing next to the pain I already felt, the pain of having lost my father, only to find him again and to have to abandon him. Nothing could compare.

"Elshavareth! Shozai Thoroh-Selaven! Nagrat Thar!"

My body slowed as if immersed underwater, but I paid it no attention. I reached the witch, who stumbled backwards as I tried to raise my arm to draw my sword. My right arm would not, could not move. Blearily, I tried my left arm and gripped my sword's pommel. I struggled unwieldily to draw my weapon from the same side as my arm, but the blade slid clear.

The Sorceress staggered back as I came at her, moving her hands in arcane sigils of protection. She shrieked her curses in desperation.

"Shalvat Sorai-"

My blade smashed into her wards, knocking her back and disrupting the spell that she cast. The energy crackling around her fingers lashed backwards, wrinkling and aging the skin of her arms.

She shrieked again and turned to run, but I was ready. I slammed the sword of my father, the sword of my father's father's father, deep into the back of the witch, a blight upon Ulthuan. She gasped, stumbled, and coughed.

The rushing in my ears receded and silence returned—but for the soft ‘flump' of her body crumpling to the ground.

I was tired. So incredibly, mind-numbingly tired. I looked at my right arm, and such was my exhaustion that I did not fully understand the ragged stump that I saw.

Something clicked in my mind. I became an automaton, focusing solely on tearing strips from my cloak and binding my severed arm. When I finished, I wearily yanked my sword from the corpse of the dead witch and slung my bow in the case on my back again. My mind was clouded and fogged, and I barely made it to the window in time.

As I staggered to the window, thumping sounds from outside the auditorium grew louder. I climbed up the windowsill and clumsily grasped the spikes that I'd climbed earlier. I heard the sentries from the roof burst into the room I'd just left. No doubt that they had been under orders to leave the Sorceress alone with me, but they had realized that something had gone wrong.

But I was too tired to realize this now. My only thoughts were of escape and of my father. When I clumsily reached a spike a short height above the other balcony, I dropped. I didn't care that I landed as heavily as a human. I was beyond that.

I pushed through the curtain to the room my father was kept in. My eyes saw spikes and racks, brands and cages, but I truly only took in the sight of my father. Staked atop a flat board and surrounded by blood and scraps of flesh, he had been skinned entirely. His organs, though not severed from whatever tubes they might be attached to, had been arrayed around his body and nailed to the panel, reminiscent of a diagram of an Elven body in an anatomy book.

I vomited.

When I finished retching on the floor, I looked around again. Other of my fellow Shadow Warriors, captured at the same time as my father, were spread around the room and disabled in similar depraved manners.

"My son?" The faint whisper was almost beyond the edge of my sharp hearing. Incredibly, he was still alive.

"No. You... are not my son. You are only another... lie."

"Father!" I gasped in pain, at this rejection and at seeing him brought so low.

"If... you are my son... you will give me mercy and and my pain."

"Father, I- I can't kill you!"

"Then you... are weak. Can you not see my pain!" His harsh whisper cost him too much. He coughed blood and slumped back.

I wept. There was no choice. Slowly, I drew a knife and walked up to the elf that I loved so dearly, so purely.

"Goodbye, father." I said, choking on my sobs.

A look of gratitude flashed through his eyes and he smiled.

"My son..."

After I finished the deed, I assisted my each brethren in turn. Every single one of them was maimed beyond any repair. Most of them were too far gone to express their gratitude. Each and every one that I set free was killing another part of myself. I imagined that I could see their souls flying free, released like the Phoenix of Asuryan.

Soaked with their blood and shattered in soul, I left my kin and that accursed tower. I cared neither for the triumphs that I had achieved nor for the laurels that I was given. I had consigned my family for dead before I entered the tower, and to have the cruel gods hurt this poor son of Nagarythe so was terrible.

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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:34 pm

(This story has been published by Mythic Entertainment, creator of Warhammer Online, here)

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Blood Tribute

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With a flutter of black wings and a raucous cry, the raven settled on the ancient skull. A hundred years or more in the past, the skull had belonged to a predecessor of Alvar's or one of their worthier foes-now, though, it was yellowed and crumbling. One of the raven's scaled black talons curled roughly around the rusted spike that stuck through it.

The raven watched Alvar with wary, intelligent eyes. The Blood Champion spat. Such an omen needed no doddering soothsayer to decipher. The raven atop a broken skull?

"If that is," he murmured, "then so be it. My skull is the Bloodfather's."

"What?" asked Durm beside him. His rough, unguarded voice broke the white silence and the raven's calm. It clamored away, beating its wings noisily.

Alvar cast his gaze to his fellow sentry, his second-in-command. In a time of war, it was traditional for the Blood Champion to keep the watch. Out of their bond of brotherhood, Durm, his Bloodseeker, had offered to stand beside him in this vigil. He was grateful for the support.

"Nothing, good friend," Alvar replied. "I merely ponder the battle to come."

His bond-brother smiled and nodded.

"And a glorious one it shall be," Durm replied fiercely. "Never has our clan faced such a foe as the Shatterlord. Soon many skulls shall be brought before our Father."

Alvar wished that he could bring himself to agree so heartily. Was this seed within him, this doubt, a weakness? Ought his compatriot, his equal in every set of arms and ever the more fervent devotee of Khorne, to be tribe leader in the bloodshed to come?

Some of his reservation must have shown in his face. His bond-brother laughed, wrapped an arm around his neck and shook Alvar heartily.

"Fear not, brother! We all go to the Skull Throne in our own time!"

As ever, Durm's boisterous nature brought a smile to Alvar's lips. In exasperation, he looked out again across the snow blanketed fields. A flicker of movement caught his eye.

"Wait," he said, his voice's intensity stilling Durm's mirth. "Is that one of our runners?"

Durm shielded his eyes against the snow-glare and cast his gaze to the tree line as well.

"I'd reckon so. From his gait, I'd say it's Tetrel. Wait—yes, there's his twin just behind him. Looks like we may yet sleep tonight, brother. And we might be able to hold the Festival tomorrow yet, depending on how far out they sighted the enemy host."

The figures in the distance resolved themselves into the young, lanky twins Tetrel and Terren. They put on a last burst of speed coming up the hill, pressing their endurance and stamina against each other. It looked as if Terren might close the distance, but Tetrel held the lead—if only barely. They came to a sweat-soaked halt, muscles shuddering in their lighter running furs.

Tetrel sunk to his knees in the churned-mud yard, gasping heavily and clutching his side. Terren sauntered up to make his report.

"My lords," Terren said, gulping breaths heavily, "we've run for three days. We encountered the Shatterlord's scouting parties at the Crookpass and lost Chellor and Asken. We laid low until we made sure it was their main force crossing the pass. Us two have run ahead to carry word—the rest of us should arrive by tomorrow."

"Numbers?" barked Durm.

"Bad," replied Tetrel, coming into the conversation. "In addition to the three tribes we knew that he had under his banner, he flies Lokartis' and Shennen's too, now. He's been busy this winter, my lords."

"A fitting gift to our lord," Durm growled, smiling. "The blood of five tribes shall run from this hilltop, and our own."

"That's not all, my lords," broke in Tetrel. "We saw werebeasts as well, and the beastkin. The spawn of the wastes and the unaffiliated flock to him. Worst, his tribe has marked themselves as Favored. They wear the paint of the Raven God, and are armed as Chosen."

Alvar bit his lip. So, the Shatterlord had multiplied his forces and the God of Change had granted him His blessing.

He looked up.

"How far away would you guess they are now?"

"Three days hard march, my lords. Two and a half at the very least."

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Messengers were sent to the three Shieldholds, mere hours away from the village. The runners carried Alvar's word that every man, woman, child, dog and slave were to come for the Festival and protection against the encroaching horde.

Alvar himself spoke longer with the scouts, and then called a council of his chieftains while the womenfolk prepared for the annual Festival of Ascension. His heart burned with regret and anticipation. He knew what must be done, and before the council, he took Durm aside. What Alvar insisted upon shocked his bond-brother, but in the end, Durm relented.

The warriors took up their places. They slashed the backs of their left hands to honor the Blood God and seal the meeting to secrecy. Alvar looked about himself and drank in their faces. They were the best, the leaders of the tribe—the six Holdchiefs, himself, and Durm.

Eight. An auspicious number. Dernov, Chalek, and Cortor were missing—his Shieldbearers. They would arrive tomorrow with their families.

He watched as a single, worn out rag was passed around the circle. Each man tore off a thin strip and bound his bleeding hand. The table glistened underneath Alvar's hand by the time Durm handed him the remainder of the cloth. Another omen of import—it was perfectly sized to bind his wound, though there had been no coordination around the room. Each man simply had taken a piece of the cloth for himself and tied the cloth to their left hand using their right.

He breathed in deep, smelling the tang of blood, the ancient sweat and straw of the lodge, and the smoke of the fire. A wind whistled outside, and voices of warriors and women trickled faintly in as well. Alvar breathed deep and drew strength from Durm beside him.

"Brethren," he began. His was the first voice to break the sanctity of the lodge, as was traditionally his right.

"We stand upon a new time," he spoke, "a new era. The world changes, yet we remain the same. Ours is the path of strength, of triumph. We hold the Way of Blood. We hold the ways of our forefathers. From this springs our might.

"Now we are disturbed. One who shucks tradition and replaces it with ambition approaches. A scrawny, youthful, weak-blooded schemer is he, a follower of the cowardly Changer. He has been blessed with both magics and cunning, and thinks this enough to sway the world.

"Our doom is that others listen to his lies. He has taken the banner of Cremmin to himself, absorbing them into his own. Then Dactal, crushed in dishonor through promises unheld. Now, too, the clans of Lokartis and Shennen. This Shatterlord has violated our own peoples, and those of our traditional foes.

"But he is no fool; nor is he blinded by his lust. He does not strengthen his people—he spreads them. He does not best his foes—he consumes them. He fights no battle for tribute, no conflict for honor. Have you not seen? He wishes to bring us together under one religion—under the foul thrall of the Raven God! But we will not stand for this!"

The Holdchiefs roared their defiance as one. The men were of Alvar's shared blood, of his shared strength. His voice was buoyed by their support.

"This is his worst, most foolish blunder. We are proud. We are strong. And when he comes, we shall reap a bloody tally!"

Alvar held up his hand to still his mens' repeated cheers. He reached inside himself, pushed against his honor to admit that their foe was too numerous, and prepared to make the hardest concession of his life. It was not that he feared his forthcoming death, no. It was what the necessary deaths beforehand would entail.

"But that is not enough. We are not enough. We stand alone to stem this tide-our neighbors pray for themselves, not for the downfall of our foe. Not against this enemy. None of them stand with us to stem his tide.

"This is our greatest strength-and this is our greatest weakness. We divide ourselves, fight amongst ourselves—all to keep us in our Bloodfather's graces. From this conflict comes our might and power. We strive to be great. To be the greatest.

"Now, however, our disunity now strikes against us. The Shatterlord's host has risen far above any one of our tribes. He accepts the weakest into his army, swelling and bolstering it with them to drag us down in a sea of flesh. He wields magics to weaken us and strike us down from afar.

"But seek to destroy us, he does not. He wishes to unite us—a fate worse than death. Without our struggle, without our faith in Lord Khorne, we are nothing. We would be as weak, petty and fragile as the men of the southern Empire."

Alvar buried his gaze in the eyes of each of the men, even Durm. Every one bore his gaze and returned it, unafraid of their fate. He was proud, oh so proud of them. He could almost not bring himself to speak his next words.

His tongue was leaden; his voice, hoarse and too quiet. He cleared his throat and stiffened his mind.

"He shall defeat us. Us, unbroken from our father's father's father's time—yes, bloodied or beaten occasionally, but never destroyed. He is the raven, descending to tear out our eyes. He seeks to lead us, blind, through his lies like so many others. He shall slay the strong—us, the protectors of the tribe. Us, the men who follow the Blood God.

"We will be replaced by snivelers and sycophants. By fools and blind men. He seeks not to destroy our bodies, but our souls. Our hearts! He will kill a few, yes. Us and the warriors who stand against him. But not the women, nor the children—especially not our children. Those he shall raise as his own, to whisper, to sacrifice and to offer obeisance to a cowardly god.

"That is the fate that awaits us as a people; a fate worse than death. A fate that we must prevent."

Silence fell over the room. Alvar was dizzy—he looked down and saw blood dripping from his unstaunched wound. It pooled across the table, the floor. It rippled as his last words faded, carrying the sodden strip of linen that had fallen from his hand.

The Blood God was pleased with his words.

He raised his eyes to his Holdchiefs. They were his in actuality as well as word now; gathered closely in his palm. Their eyes cried out against the injustices and blasphemies of Tchar'zanek; their bodies stiffened with Alvar's resolve.

"This is the most precious thing we can deny him—our people. Our blood. And we must prevent him them."

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Alvar let his Holdchiefs speak. Several blustered emptily—but several sat quietly, considering the problem. Uncharacteristically, Durm was a voice of reason. After the others had spoken their pieces, or chosen not to, Alvar stood and spoke with them for a while again.

They were not pleased with his solution—the only solution. They fought it and did not see it as the truth at first. They argued, threatened, became violent-but Alvar was their chief. They struck blows against him, and he replied with his own fists. Eventually, they bowed to his will.

Long past the afternoon and deep into the night they talked. Durm stood beside Alvar. The chieftain's blood burned with a vigorous song and a sorrowful drumbeat, and underneath those both grew a simmering revulsion for the Shatterlord.

And the gathering came to an agreement—at Alvar's terms. He gave them the chance to leave, to abandon their lands their ancestors. None took it, and he knew that his will would be obeyed.

He was content. The meeting was dispersed and the slow, mournful sound of a hammer upon an anvil soon rang over the village. Alvar returned to his longhouse and to his wife, to sleep beside her for the very last time.

He hoped she did not see or feel his tears.

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Morning. Dawn. Alvar roused himself in the chilled room, and found the fire burnt down. He fed the embers until they flared back to life. His beautiful, flawless wife was yet abed.

He slipped into his furs quietly, taking care not to disturb her. The room slowly warmed and light grew as the coals rekindled. Morosely, he left.

Snow had fallen again last night. It paved the roofs and dirt pathways white, as of yet undisturbed. Soon, the paths would be treaded into swirled, sloshing mud—but for now, as the sun rose and cast it in brilliance, Alvar could appreciate it.

A black shape caught his eye. A raven hopped across the glimmering snow, leaving feathered tail and talon imprints in it. It let out a caw, profaning the silence.

Alvar bent slowly to the ground, not taking his eyes off the bird. It pecked idly at a hanging basket. He scooped up a handful of snow and straightened slowly. It shuffled around to eye him cautiously.

Then it squawked in indignation as he plastered it across its front with a freezing snowball. It beat its wings and hopped away, shedding melting snow. Alvar straightened contentedly.

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Two of the Shieldbearers arrived from the Shieldholds. With them came flocks of children, and animals to be corralled. The village awoke.

Alvar instructed Durm to speak with the newcoming chiefs. He then left to talk with the village's blacksmith—Choltek, one of his Holdchiefs from the previous night. The man had not slept. Piles of metal stakes and heaps of twisted scrap were a testament to the labors that the man had accomplished over the night. Choltek confided his fear at what was to come, and Alvar returned unto him words from which he took succor. In Alvar's own ears, they rang hollowly.

He surveyed the village's defenses. Barricades around the village's edge were shorn up and strengthened. Alvar was told lists of men, axes, provisions and omens.

Cortor, Alvar's grown son, was the final Shieldbearer to arrive. Alvar personally greeted him and took him to the lodge, to tell him of their plans. Cortor did not like them. But he swore to obey.

The afternoon rolled into the Festival of Ascension. Children laughed and played as they spoke again for the first time in half a year. Steaming dishes and cauldrons of food were carried into the lodge, the only building in the village large enough to hold everybody.

Alvar could not bear it; the laughter and joy that would so soon cease.

He wrenched himself away and took an early-born goat kid from one of the pens. It bleated as he carried it down and out of the village under one arm into the frozen woods.

His breath formed glittering clouds of pale moisture. The kid tried to nibble at his fingers. Cold, black tree trunks stood out from the cold, white ground. He pulled his furs closer to his body with his free hand.

The sound of the revelry behind him died away. He was alone now, and only his ancestors watched him. He set down the kid and scraped a patch of snow clear with his gloves. The goat cocked its head at him and bleated questioningly as he dragged it onto the section of raw, frozen mast.

"Spirits of the wind; spirits of the blood," he breathed as he drew his knife, "accept this offering, and guide me in these troubled times."

He needed no further prayer—the shedding of blood would do that enough. He slashed the back of his right hand, gouging it deeply, and held it out to the kid. It sniffed at the pumping, salty blood and began licking it up willingly.

He wrapped his left arm tightly around its neck to keep it from struggling and switched his knife to his left hand. He breathed in deeply and tore the knife deeply across the goat's throat. It bucked and thrashed, but its muscles were too young for it to escape. Arterial blood sprayed, painting the snow red. A visceral hunger grew in Alvar's breast, associating a lifetime of ritual and strength with the blood. The goat's rectangular irises stared frantically into his as the spark of life faded.

The kid's struggles weakened and it fell still. Alvar laid its body reverently to one side—as it belonged to the Bloodfather, now, in truth—and knelt in the patch of snow-free ground. He felt the wet of the soil against his fur-wrapped knees and relished in the slickness of his forearms.

He meditated, pondering his doubts and searching his soul for another answer than the one he had already committed to. None appeared. With a sense of desperation, he shut his eyes and tilted his head back, entreating the Bloodfather for a sign. The afternoon sun glared across his closed lids, filtering through as a burning shade of red.

His eyes snapped open, and the sun was burned momentarily into them as he jerked his head forward. In that afterimage of blinding brightness, he could have sworn that everything was silhouetted in red; running in blood. The trees wept black-red ichors, the snow glared multi-faceted sprays of red, and the blood of the kid spread to cover the earth.

Then the moment was gone. His eyes cleared, and he saw the white-and-black panorama of the forest as it was. Beneath him, the lamb's steaming blood chilled. Purpose filled Alvar once again. His was the way to bleed the Shatterlord the most, and he would relish their confrontation. But now... his tribe must make their sacrament to the Blood God.

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The afternoon passed and was replaced by the evening, taking with it the outdoor revelry. Children flocked inside to enjoy heated, spiced wine and to hide under tables. The goats and sheep clustered together in their pens, gathering for the warmth to survive the frigid night. Women prepared clay bowls of soup and carried loaves of bread. Alvar called the menfolk out of the lodge.

The Holdchiefs went to and fro amongst their own men, murmuring to them, strengthening them for that which was to come. All knew their purpose—Alvar had made sure that his lieutenants told their men. Two of the tribe had refused to act. They were unconscious and hidden away elsewhere. A mercy to them? No.

Each man looked to his weapons or fetched them. A few wept openly already. Their weakness was not scorned here and now. That, the Bloodfather would judge when they came before his throne.

Alvar turned to the lodge and prepared to lead his men once more inside. It was a tribute to their Lord that they gave, and one that sickened even Durm to the core.

"Blood for the Blood God," he murmured, and stepped forward.

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Alvar, framed by the dawn's light, wept. By his hand, generations of his tribe were undone. By Khorne's will.

He cradled his beautiful wife's corpse to his chest and told himself that he did not regret this act. The shocked, glazed eyes of his youngest sons and his daughter reflected to him a different truth. Lost, betrayed, and caught on unawares. Durm sat nearby, his eyes puffed with his own frozen tears.

The village was an empty shell. Men wandered about, consoling each other. No few wept, like Alvar. They too had done what they had needed to do. Others sat in stony silence. From this sprang the seeds of hatred that would grow over until the Shatterlord's host arrived.

Had they made the right choice? Alvar looked to his hands; his bloodstained hands. There had never been one, he realized. He had done no more than the Bloodfather demanded. To allow his people to be broken into serfdom and slavery would have been a sin far greater than the painful sacrament that he had enacted this day.

He cursed Tchar'zanek bitterly. Before the foe arrived, he swore that his men would spoil the village's stores and slaughter its herds. They would break their tools and keep no weapons but those they bore with which to kill. When the village had all but fallen, they would set it alight themselves. Choltek the blacksmith, after forging a collection of iron spikes, had now begun fusing the village's stockpiles of metals and ore into unusable scrap.

Each man to his own family. That was the tacit agreement that spread throughout the village when the blacksmith's spikes were passed around. Choltek had made more than enough.

Each man severed the heads of his children and his wife and mounted them around the village's edge to honor the tribute of blood that they had paid. As they labored, every man swore in his shattered heart that on the morrow, they would make Tchar'zanek's minions pay.

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What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator!
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:35 pm

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Gehemisnacht

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Grotesque was aptly named. His flesh was an unhealthy shade that resembled wax, or the putrefaction of a corpse. Bone hooks jutted from his back and gangly limbs, punched through his skin to act as crude jewelry. His back was exaggeratedly hunched, and his eyes—small, beady things—seemed almost luminescent.

It was close to being time, now. The moon-of-light was gone, tonight. It was almost time that the dark-moon, the strong-moon, Morrslieb, was to rise up. This was the night of purification. The Great One had promised them a feast beyond compare.

Well, no. The Great One intended to feast beyond compare, was the truth. But his emissary, the man-of-death, he had promised that the bevy of scraps remaining would be for Grotesque and his brethren. There was nothing in all the world that could stand in the Great One's way, either, and so this promise of meat was one that was sure to be fulfilled.

Grotesque and his like kept out of the Great One's way as much as possible. Before they had learned to, several of them had graced His teeth.

There! There was the first finger of the green light of Morrslieb on the horizon.

Grotesque and his kin kept onward through the forest. Woodsmoke drifted faintly on the air, though it was only his bestial sense of smell that let him detect it. It fired his mind to higher imaginations of the desecrations they would enact, the marrow that they would suck from splintered bones...

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The door, which had seemed so solid and immovable when fashioned a mere six-month ago, now let the chill gusts slant through altogether to easily. Upon returning to her village, Marie had purchased what aged lumber she could to rebuild the inn, but much of the new siding and the doors had been raw, green wood, as dictated by need. Most of her coin—what had been her man's coin, in truth—had been used to provide the inn with its pig and starting stock of beer.

Rakwith, her man, had appeared in her life so suddenly, spiriting her away from the town as it and her life had lain in ashes. He had brought her a brief, brief stretch of overwhelming joy—and then died. She had returned home heart-broken, if heavier of purse, and nine months later, well, she had had a little surprise...

She compulsively hugged little Rakwith closer to her chest. That was to shelter the babe from the draft, she told herself.

“Don't squish him, now,” giggled Bellise, who was a pretty girl, but not half the rare beauty that she thought that she was. It was a comment typical of the empty-headed young woman. Marie smiled half-heartedly.

Her hands ached from serving, her ankles ached from walking back and forth across the floor of the inn, her shoulders ached from carrying dishes, her back ached from cleaning, and her posterior ached the most, from the sum of all the day's work. Beside her, though, the witless girl paid no attention to Marie's exhaustion and was babbling about which of the town's boys she preferred to share the straw with. Bellise gave Marie some not-too-subtle suggestions on the subject, despite Marie's obvious lack of interest.

Running the inn with only herself and the cook took too much out of Marie, and Rakwith only added to the load of work, for all that she loved him. She dreaded the day when he would be able to stand, walk, and get underfoot. That was a day fast approaching—was he already almost four months of age? It was time, perhaps, that she find a helper, and one who would be able to work more regularly and efficiently than Bellise. The disastrous afternoon that Marie had spent with the girl on the staff was not one that she wished to repeat in a hurry.

The door boomed under a sudden series of blows. Bellise started nervously, and the few men still drinking in the inn lifted their heads from their cups. Who would be out this night of all nights? Even those present, Marie's steady customers, intended only to stagger home, tonight.

She began to rise to answer the door, but the man sitting closest to the door, a scarred veteran of the militia named Henriech Ganstone, motioned for her to sit back down.

“Who is it?” grunted Henriech loudly.

“A traveler,” came the muffled reply, “seeking solace and a fire for the night.”

Henriech harrumphed. “How is it,” he said, “then, that we know you're not a goblin or a beast-kin? This is the night for it.”

“And you believe in such things, good sir?” came the external voice again, sounding amused.

“Beasts that walked as men burnt this town to the ground a year ago, traveler,” spat Henriech, “and I fought the same near a score of years ago. Do not mock us if you wish for bed and board.”

“Oh, no, sirrah!” came an indignant reply. “You are wise to fear the dark and what it holds. But I'm no threat to you, not poor wandering Phillomon the minstrel. I'm a Sigmar-fearing man, I am.”

Henriech stood, and Marie could hear him grumbling something about evil men fearing Sigmar just as much as good. Nonetheless, he cracked the door, peered out, and opened it to let the man outside in.

Phillomon, as the newcomer called himself, was swathed in a cloak of dyed rags that caught the eye, and a misshapen instrument case of indeterminate contents. Underneath, he wore a tight suit of black, which had clearly seen better days, but had tidily burnished buttons. His face was weathered and creased with age, and an erratic fringe of white hair was all that remained of whatever had once graced the crest of his head.

“Ah,” he said, having been let through the rickety portal, “my thanks, Herr Proprietor.”

“That wouldn't be me,” smirked Henriech. “You'd be wanting Marie, over with the babe. Don't give her no trouble, though.”

“I wouldn't dream of it,” replied the minstrel, turning his eyes over Bellise appreciatively, then meeting Marie's gaze and smiling graciously. Something in his grin left her unsettled. He seemed harmless enough, certainly, but she couldn't help but feel slightly repulsed.

“Ah, the lady of the house. What are the rates, then, fair beauty?”

+

Bellise huffed into her hands as she walked back from the inn back toward her disappointing hovel. Miss Marie high-and-mighty might have her house of twigs, but nobody cared enough for poor, pretty little Bellise to make anything but mud. That old lecher of a minstrel had driven her from the inn with his presence and unwanted looks. She wouldn't let him touch her with his nasty, wrinkled hands, as he had been likely to try to do. And she would bet that his hands weren't all that was wrinkled...

But she didn't intend to stay at her own house tonight, anyways. She paused inside the hut long enough only to make sure that nobody was watching her before plunging out again and off into the forest.

The walk to the old menhir was long enough to stretch into tedium, and the trees pressed down around her as she made her way uphill and into the forest. It was said that the old witch from the next village over had come to dance at the rock every Gehemisnacht, and she had lived to be ancient and a half.

Bellise knew where her priorities lay—squarely with herself. If that meant that she would dance naked every now and then, well, that was that.

A crackle in the bushes near her made her jump markedly. No, that would just be a squirrel, or something. It was nothing.

Something moved in her peripheral vision, and she swore that she saw big, nasty teeth. She shrieked, picked up her skirts, and ran. Trees whipped and grabbed at her, and she stumbled and skinned her knee on the hill's steep slope. Finally, she broke into the menhir's clearing. She paused and looked around, beginning to giggle at her silliness.

Then the Beast that awaited her curled forward from the darkness behind the menhir and snarled. It sounded eerily like laughter.

“H'lo, lil warm-blud,” it hissed in a feral, jagged voice.

Bellise was silent. She heard shufflings behind her, but didn't dare turn her eyes from the massive bat-beast in front of her. It looked upon her even when hunched over more than double to peer into her eyes.

“”D'y know wut I am, warm-blud? My bret'ren, tey shun me. Shun me an' look down on me, 'acause I dare t'reach higher tan tem. Tey're the lords n' ladies of yor kind. But me, embracin' my tirst—I am as a God. Yor Sigmar is empty. Yor Nortern Gors, they are...” the Beast laughed again.

“Tey're...shallow. Blud is my vessel, my body, my feast, and I want yors. My broters an' sisters, tey're te vampires. But again I say, d'y know wut I am? Yed've herd sum nasty stories, I'm sure.”

The Beast flexed its bat-snout and needle-like fangs and laughed a third time, horribly, gratingly. It lurched upwards to rear above her at its full, nightmare-inspiring height. Bellise uttered a faint shriek.

Before it snapped downward again and devoured her, she heard its last words.

“I am Vargulf.”

+

Bellise had left to go back to her hut a while ago. Little Rakwith had finished squalling—hopefully for the night—and been put to bed in his room in the back. The remaining regulars in the inn, as few as they had been, had dwindled as well. Now, only Henriech and Phillomon remained in the common room. The latter had declined to play a song on his as-of-yet unrevealed instrument. He had promised to share a song or two on it before dawn, but Marie and Henriech had contented themselves with listening to a ribald ditty or two until then.

Despite Phillomon's cheerful activities, however, he continued to leave Marie feeling unsettled and on guard. His eyes kept flicking back to her when he thought she wasn't looking—and if she caught him staring at her, he only brazenly continued. She didn't suspect the man capable of anything particularly harmful...but all the same, she was glad that Henriech hadn't yet decided to go home. In fact, she suspected that this might be part of the reason that he hadn't. He watched out for Marie like an uncle. She'd have to thank him tomorrow.

A mighty crash shook the night, shaking the three of them to alertness. Henriech jumped toward the door with admirable swiftness, considering the depth of his inebriation. Phillomon, meanwhile, returned to his most recent drink.

“It's probably a tree falling,” Phillomon said, dismissing the sound. Nonetheless, even he wasn't able to remain calm when a second crash followed soon after, and a scream.

The door swung inward to Henriech's fumbling fingers, and the village was revealed. The roofs of two of the mud-and-plank houses of the village had been all but demolished—and over the closer of the two hunched a massive blot of shifting darkness. As they watched, this Beast reared into the air, something bloody vanishing into its gullet.

Framed against the light of the full Morrslieb, the true horror of the Beast was revealed. A full eighteen feet in height, it's shape was a rough mixture of bat and simian. A shaggy pelt was eclipsed by vast stretches of membrane and leathery flesh. It's muscular haunches had already proved their power by reducing the thatch of two buildings to discarded scatterings of straw. Its razor-needled maw was splattered with blood, and its slanting, predatory eyes glinted red. But its size—by the Hammer, it was massive!

A small shape, a young boy, ran from the ruins of the house upon which the Beast was perched. It crashed down upon the child, and for several seconds, cracks and ripping noises were clearly audible.

Shrieks filled the air from other directions too, now. Villagers fleeing in blind panic found themselves confronted by hunched, vicious figures. These foul new beings poured from the darkness, pouncing upon the unwary and savaging them to death.

Henriech slammed the door shut, barred it, and dragged a table in from of it. He strode back to Marie's side.

“Cellar,” he spat. “Marie, open the cellar.”

“Are you insane?” asked Phillomon with an unhinged giggle. “We have to get out—that thing will smell us and tear through the floor like...you saw what it was doing. We'll stick together, and get out.”

“No chance. You saw the ghouls. We can break open the barrels of beer to mask our scent, underground.”

“No!” snapped Phillomon. “I won't stay and die!”

“Then run and die,” spat Henriech.

Phillomon span jerkily around and grabbed his instrument case, snapping open the clasps. A change came over his posture and his face, hardening them. He opened the case's lid and drew out a long, curved knife from the assortment of wrapped objects within.

“No,” he hissed, brandishing his weapon menacingly, “we run. We have a better chance, together. I have a better chance.”

More crashes and screams from outside. Henriech lifted a chair and circled to put himself between Marie and Phillomon.

“Marie,” Henriech said, “Open the door to the cellar and get your babe.”

Marie hastened to obey, tugging on the heavy trapdoor latch behind the bar.

“Stop, woman,” snarled Phillomon.

“Get it open,” said Henriech, his eyes not wavering from the other man, and his chair held ready to bat away the knife.

Something rattled the shutters of the inn. There was a crash from one of the back rooms. Phillomon waved his knife a few times, and each time, the hefted chair tracked its pathway.

The trapdoor came up with a groan, and, with a wave of cool air, the dark, dank cellar lay open.

Phillomon lunged forward, slashing. Henriech dodged and lashed out, bringing the chair down to crack across Phillomon's right elbow and sending the knife skittering into the shadows. But Phillomon wasn't done. He slid past the now-extended chair into arms reach of Henriech, and, with his free left hand, grabbed the veteran by the throat.

So frail and ancient a man as Phillomon should have been unable to harm Henriech, especially after the jarring shock to his other arm. However, Henriech grew pale and began to shudder uncontrollably in Phillomon's grasp. Where the hand was wrapped around his throat, veins bulged and flesh shriveled and necrotized.

The unnatural, withering decay continued, spreading from Henriech's neck to his face and vanishing beneath the collar of his shirt. Within seconds, Henriech had been reduced to a shriveled husk of his former self. Phillomon let him fall to the ground, where he lay, clearly dead.

The minstrel turned to Marie.

“You picked a bad time to let in travelers, missus,” simpered Phillomon, absently rubbing his injured elbow. “You are remarkably pretty, though. I think that I shall enjoy what time we have before the Vargulf gets you.”

“You...” Marie breathed, “you're with them.”

“Oh yes,” he replied breathily, beginning to edge around the bar. “I'm the envoy between the sniveling ghouls and the snarling feral vampire, and, when need be, a scout of villages. I do my own experiments and learning, traveling with them. It befits my calling. I said that I would play a tune later, did I not? Yes indeed, with seven bells to make the dead walk. That's my song, pretty.”

He was drawing nearer to her and blocking her route of escape. She might be able to slip into the cellar and block the door behind her, and maybe even survive the night survive—but she wouldn't have Rakwith. Her baby wasn't safe.

She shoved past Phillomon in a sudden panic, flailing and breaking the brief grip he managed to get on her arm. She spilled forward, crashing down the hall and through the door to her and Rakwith's room, Phillomon just barely behind her.

She came to a horror-stricken stop. The window-slats had been broken open and pushed aside, and the room was already occupied. A daemonic, hunchbacked, waxy-skinned creature was bent over the crib.

Phillomon came to a halt behind Marie as she fell to her knees.

“I see,” panted the necromantic minstrel. “Your child. Unfortunately, the good Grotesque beat you to him...”

Responding to its name, the foul ghoul looked up. Painted black by the darkness, blood dribbled from its fingers and lips.

+
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:36 pm

+

Take Your Medicine!

+

Taros Vutch and his twin sister sprinted around the corner, their younger brother Shem conspicuously absent. The string of profanity issuing from Kay's mouth mirrored Taros's feelings exactly.

Ahead of them, Corlain d'Jeres—that scrawny and resourceful bastard—was climbing a drain pipe, and was high above them already.

Kay swore again, at Corlain this time, and began lifting herself up the pipe too. Taros eyed it, dubious. He doubted it would hold the weight of all three of them.

Their pursuers rounded the bend behind them and autopistol shots began to fill the air. Taros grabbed his sister's arm and hauled her into the mouth of an alley.

“Sactimonious, grox-khelking Leyays,” she muttered as Taros shoved his bulk past empty synth-board boxes. Shouts and more gunfire came from behind them, including, bless him, the crack of Corlain's laspistol. The offworlder was good for slowing the Throne-damned Leyays down a bit, at least.

“You've never seen a live grox,” grunted Taros as he clambered over a toppled disposal unit.

“Have too,” shot back Kay as she followed more nimbly, brushing the short black hair from her eyes. “Old Man Wheychetch kept one in his brothel for the 'verts, until it got stolen for burger-meat.” They rounded another corner, and the congestion in the alleyway began to thin. The gunfire, however, had slackened, and the shouts were starting to come closer.

“And you've been in Wheychetch's brothel, sis?” he growled. A metal-slat fence now blocked their way. He hooked his fingers into one of the slats and began to climb.

Clatters sounded from the alley's mouth.

“Drop it, Tem,” she said, drawing her plug-blaster and turning to face their pursuers. “Now's not the time.”

Taros pulled his weight up to the top of the fence and saw why the alleyway was filled with so much refuse.

“Throne-thucked,” he hissed, blasphemously. Corlain would have flinched.

Beneath him spread an endless drop, the sheer side of a hive-chasm. Every underhive had them; cracks in the foundation which rendered certain areas unsafe. He hadn't been aware of one in the area.

Blackness swallowed the falling edge, but was speckled, below, with pinpricks of light. Campfires and makeshift braziers, Taros assumed.

A concussive clap sounded behind him, and he glanced back to see the first White Hospitalier that had rounded the corner topple into the filth, a hole in the chest of his pristine robes.

The plug-blaster was an innocuous enough looking weapon, a haphazard cobbling together of spare parts that were easy to smuggle through checkpoints, and kicked a powerful punch, to boot, but its downside was that you only got one shot.

The volume of the shouting increased.

“Hurry up and get over already, Tem,” Kay said, gritting her teeth.

“Can't,” he said. “Sheer drop. Can't see the bottom. We're in a bind.” He dropped back down to her side, but his citizen's grays snagged on the top slat. He shrugged out of them.

“Thuck,” Kay replied. It was all that needed to be said. She continued, though: “It looks like we'll end up like Shem, then.”

“Don't say that!” hissed Taros harshly, grabbing Kay by the front of her grays. “We don't know that he's dead!”

“Tem...” she said slowly. “He took a full autopistol clip to the chest.”

He let her go and stepped away, shaking his head slightly.

The rest of the Hospitaliers arrived—six of them. Their white robes swished as they rounded the corner, and the three with autoguns carried them leveled and ready. Their weeping masks stared grimly back at Taros and Kay.

“Smugglers,” barked their leader, brandishing a broken, and obviously stolen, Arbites power-maul. “Put your hands where I can see them—slowly. You are accused of bringing unsanctioned medical supplies into the plague zone, and endangering the hive with your negligent disregard for quarantine. You have encroached upon Hospitalier territory and killed four of us. The sentence for these crimes is death. Have you any last words for the Emperor, scum?”

Three? Corlain had gotten three before they took him out? Taros's esteem for the scrawny offworlder went up a notch.

“The plague is spreading in spite of your 'quarantine' territory grabs, you khelking Leyays,” Kay spat. “You lot aren't even trying to find a cure.”

The Hospitalier laughed. “Be that as it may...” he said, and waved his inactive maul.

Lasbolts, not autogun slugs, greeted his signal. The three Hospitaliers holding weapons were scythed down from above by Corlain's uncannily accurate fire.

Taros, just as stunned as the Hospitaliers, launched himself forward. He would be damned before he squandered the element of surprise.

The leader swung his maul as Taros lunged. With a swiftness that belied his bulk, the smuggler stepped in past the man's swing and headbutted him in the face. Cartilage cracked behind the mask.

The leader staggered away, false face askew and blood dribbling from its ventilation holes. Taros stepped forward again, but another of the Hospitaliers tackled Taros from behind, bearing him to the ground.

Taros rolled and scrambled, but still ended up on bottom, and on his back. One of his hands was caught between their stomachs, but the other was free to halt the descending knife.

Taros had greater strength, but the Hospitalier had position on him. A grunting struggle ensued, Taros striving keep his ugly face in one piece. His opponent tried to push the knife that last few inches, but was not too busy to knee Taros in the groin.

He winced, but had by now worked his left hand free. He fumbled with his own hip-sheath, drew out the plug-blaster, and shoved it into the eye socket of the Hospitalier's mask.

The bang rang in his ears, and a heavy mist of gore and blown-out brains drizzled down over his face.

He shoved off the corpse and staggered upright, wincing for his injured bits. The fighting was about over, with Corlain dispatching the wounded from above. Kay had accounted for the leader, her second kill, but that left an embarrassingly large total of seven for Corlain.

“Corlain, you thucking bastard,” he called up, “When you stopped firing, I could have sworn you'd dropped the teat!”

Colain laughed. “Sorry that it took me so long to get to the other roof, Taros. They didn't find me that easy to kill, though.”

+
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:39 pm

+

Castigation

+

Interrogator Kellius was waiting at the ship's bridge. His back was to them, but Temils could clearly tell that he was a large and intimidating man. His fur-lined robes were heavily gilt, and a row of metal studs ran across the back of his bald pate.

Out the viewing shutters through which he gazed, Carcosair burned beneath them. Not all of it—the devastation spanned only one subcontinent—but strongly enough that the crisscrossing networks of flame which glowed across the planet’s dark side were clearly visible. Starlight was the only illumination, and it cast the bridge into bitter, blue-tinged relief. Down there, everything with which Temils had grown and known, everything he had worked for and spat upon, burned.

Perhaps not everything. Kay still stood by his side. After Shem's death, Temils's twin sister was the only soul from Hive Colocanis for whom he truly cared. The others? Dead and recently buried. Explicator Corlain had spared him and Kay, the absolute lowest dregs of the hive, while aristocrats and nobles were roasted in its uppermost spires.

Rising from the planet’s surface, Temils had seen the sun for the first time in his life. He knew something of orbits and star-systems, had heard rumors of starry night skies and the brilliance of day, and so had expected—something more powerful. All that he'd seen of Carcosair's sun was a faint, guttering ball of light, mostly shrouded from sight by the wispy atmosphere surrounding the shuttle's ascent. He had expected something awe-inspiring, not a celestial glow-bulb.

Kellius turned to face them. The studs continued across his brow, giving the appearance of a flesh-fused crown. His beard was trimmed short but stretched to his ears, and was dyed with solid, alternating bands of gray and black.

Meters-thick blast plates of adamantium slid noiselessly over the viewing apertures. Temils's shattered hive and home slid away, with no promise of return. He was not sorry to see it go.

“So,” Interrogator Kellius said, his voice harsh and grating. “The prodigal servant returns.”

“Yes my lord,” breathed Corlain d'Jeres, his eyes averted.

Kellius stared flatly down at him. After several seconds, his gaze flicked over Corlain's companions.

“Temils and Kay Vutch,” he said. “Your service, however ineffectual, has not gone unnoticed. You have been spared the immolation of the unworthy, in the hive below. Now, however, a choice presents itself.”

“A choice?” spat Kay, her tone hostile. “I wasn't aware that the Inquisition gave those to us mere citizens.”

“You are not an Imperial citizen, Vutch,” said Kellius dispassionately. “Did you exist on any census form in Colocanis? In any notarization of the Administratum, however briefly? You are illiterate underhive scum, nothing more. Do not speak again until I order you to, on pain of death.”

Kay bit back a snarl.

“A choice, underhivers. A choice which is only rarely offered. On one hand, you may enter the service of the Inquisition, striving for the rest of your days to prevent another such...failure as occurred today. Your work may even bear fruit.

“On the other, you will volunteer your mind to be flensed of what happened here, and be given to the Schola Progenium. As much older and more poorly educated than the rest of your class as you would be, there are many ways you could find fulfillment in supplication to the Emperor: the Commissariat, the Ecclesiarchy, and the officer corps of the Imperial Guard amongst them.

“Know, however, that unless you both decide to serve the Inquisition, it is likely that neither of you shall ever see the other again. Now, I will have your choices.”

Temils stiffened at the ultimatum, but Corlain had warned him as much on the ride up. There was no way that he and Kay would remain together, what with Kay's new-found venom for the Inquisition.

“You khelking tekkos can eat grox dung for all that I care,” she spat. “Shem's blood is on your hands. I'll take my chances in the Guard.”

“Understood,” said Kellius, and turned his gaze to Kay's surviving brother. Temils stiffened at Kellius's apathetic derision. “And your choice, Temils Vutch?”

“I will remain in the service of the Inquisition,” he said, glaring back levelly. Kellius let several seconds pass, in which Temils didn't flinch, and gave a small nod.

“Very well,” he said. “He'll be put into your keeping, d'Jeres.”

Corlain flicked his hand, motioning Temils and Kay back toward the wall. They were dismissed.

Standing at the side of the chamber, they could look around somewhat more freely. Beyond the command deck where they stood, the bridge was filled with busy, scribbling officers of the Imperial Navy, necrotized servitors, and hunched adepts of the Adeptus Mechanicus. The distant drone of chanting could be heard.

On the deck itself, a pair of crusaders in mirrored, powered plate stood on both sides of the Interrogator, and a cherub-scribe babbled to itself in the corner. Further to Kellius's right stood the ship's captain and a dark-haired man in a brocaded vest.

This was Temils' first true confrontation with Imperial wealth and power. Now that he had moved from the center of everybody's attention, he realized that nothing in the underhive had prepared him for this. He would have been loath to admit it aloud, but the efficient, palpable sense of control exuded left him awed and overwhelmed.

“Explicator Corlain d'Jeres,” said Kellius languidly. “Do you understand the magnitude of your failure?”

Corlain swallowed. Something raw glittered in his eyes. “I do, sir,” he said bitterly.

“Truly?” inquired Kellius. “How many lives were lost, then? How many innocents slain, for so few heretics? Oh yes, our superiors and holy texts lay forth that it is better to slay a hundred innocents than to allow a single heretic to escape—but what of a thousand loyalists? Ten thousand?”

He paused, his face impassive, to let the words sink in.

“And yet,” he continued, “every citizen of Hive Colocanis was tainted by such a proportion of their number, and had to be destroyed. Four thousand heretical hive-scum forced us to exterminate forty million. Had you but prevented them from spreading the taint, we could have slain those four thousand and have had done with it.

“The only way your failure could have been greater, d'Jeres, is had you not tried at all.

“How do you suppose I must punish you? Forty million lost—would it matter were but one more body lain atop the heaps of corpses? The mountains of the dead?”

Corlain croaked the only answer permissible. Kellius nodded.

“However,” he continued, his abrasive voice softening marginally, “our Lord is merciful. Inquisitor Thresh would have me weigh your uses and triumphs against this failure. Bellancore, Mraxis Epsilon, the Athrael Reach—in these places, you proved your worth and halted the works of the Archenemy. You are bright, intelligent, and capable.”

Kellius paused, then began again, his tone hardening and crushing the fragile hope that had been allowed grow. “Two million nobles, bureaucrats, or merchants. Six million middle class citizens. Approximately seven and a half million agricultural workers or wasteland scavengers. Ten million low-value citizens. Twelve and a half million able-bodied manufactoria laborers. Two million infants and children. Do your values excuse their loss?"

Temils swallowed. A number was a number to him, and a million was merely a statistic. Twenty million was even more unimaginable. But—everybody he knew and had ever met, less Kay and Corlain. All of the prostitutes, junkies and scum. All of the devoted parents, the lonely people just trying to make their way in the insanity of the underhive and the Imperium. All gone, and barely a fraction of the whole.

Aggravations, annoying little things that people did to each other out of sheer spite. Vigils whose purpose had been long forgotten by the vigilants. Endless interactions, schemes and collaborations between millions of citizens—all wiped away. Systems of society, empty and worthless to all but those who enacted them—all obliterated. Dead.

Temils had known these facts. He understood the things that had happened. But they had hit him again as the interrogator spoke, and apparently, Corlain too. The explicator's face was deathly pale.

“No," concluded Kellius after he was sure his words had sunk in, "they do not. Not without castigation. You shall meditate upon loss and pain, serving penance duties on the altar of flagellation for as long as I deem necessary. Additionally, explicator, you shall pay a price that was taken from myself, too, by His Lordship in the distant past.”

The Interrogator raised his right hand, showing it to be an ornate bionic replacement.

“You shall pay in flesh.”

+
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:42 pm

+

Survivor

+

+Redacted by order of [insufficient authority clearance]+
+His Holy Inquisition reminds you to report to regular brain-wiping sessions+
+Thought of the day: Ignorance does not necessitate innocence+

+
Last edited by Mossy Toes on Tue May 08, 2012 6:42 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:46 pm

(All terrible grammar is intentional, so as to convey the deranged state of the main character's mind. For elaboration on this piece, you'll have to read Plaything--but suffice it to say that this is a decent snapshot of how the story starts, "He" being Plaything's main character and her being a bound Primaris Psyker named Sheka.)

+

Alone

+

the voices had gone away, and she was alone.

she preferred it when it was that way. when all the voices were quieted down to a dull mosquito buzz. when all the light of the world that shone in through her third sight—not the eyes of course, the other sight—was dimmed to a nothingness.

it let her be alone.

but when she was out, let out to be free, though, she could see Him. He never spoke to her softly because of what she was but she remembered-

she remembered-

it was only when she was hidden away from the light and the voices that He spoke softly to her. even then, enough of the voices crept through the suppressant collar that told her it was just out pity that He did this. she didn’t care, and she couldn’t respond when He did do this, but it made her so happy. she wanted to cry out, to laugh and jump whenever His hand briefly brushed her—but she could not.

the only way she could please Him was to hurt the others, the dim-souls and dirty-change-fleshed that tried to harm Him and His fellow clean-flesh whenever He let her out. even then it wasn’t Him she was pleasing but His sense of duty, but it made Him more content and so it was reason enough.

she hurt Him, she knew. she made Him cry at night when she was kenneled and He was bedded, alone. It hurt her so badly to hurt Him—it cut her so deep—but she couldn’t stop. she couldn’t stop without going away, and she couldn’t have gone away if she had wanted, because of the Bright Chains that bound her up. however, she knew that she would never want to leave Him. never ever ever, because she loved him, and He loved-

and He loved-

but He never even liked her when the collar and blindfold were off. so she was happy that the voices had gone away, and besides, the voices always hurt her. the only time she had control of her body, though, was when the voices were there with her.

but she could never tell Him that she she loved Him, not even when the voices were there and the collar was off. so it was better when she was alone. she liked being alone.

but she knew that it was a lie, that she lied to herself, that the voices lied to her, and that He lied to her and to Himself.

because she remembered when He spoke softly to her and she laughed, and she spoke softly back. because she loved Him, and she knew in her heart and mind and anima and soul and spirit and body, she Knew that He loved her still.

and she was so tired of being alone.

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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:47 pm

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Morale

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Alexos knocked and was told to enter.

Major Vutch was laying, fully dressed with the exception of her boots, on her bed. Her hands were knitted behind her head. She looked up at Alexos as he entered, her expression professing interest, but mostly just reflecting the deadening exhaustion which Alexos felt.

She told him to take a seat, and asked what the occasion was. He span her chair away from her desk on one of its legs and lowered himself slowly onto it, exhaling as his sore muscles protested.

Not much, he said. Just a morale check, if she understood. Being trapped in a building, surrounded by raving heretics, and then snubbed by command as 'not being a high enough priority' to rescue had to hurt. As a commissar, Alexos told Vutch, he had to know the condition of those alongside whom he fought.

She slid her legs off the bed and propped herself into a sitting position. In that case, she replied, she was fine. Tired, obviously. But probably not as tired as he was. Throne alone knew how he'd managed to keep upright these last several fights.

Is that respect, he asked back, or just motherly concern? Vutch snorted humorlessly.

Really, he said, there is something. Probably not much, but he had caught a couple of the staff whispering in a corner about the basement. Something about having 'toured them right past' and 'them not suspecting a thing'. When he confronted to them on it, they said it was just contraband; a stash of medical-grade hallucinogens and the like. They were frightened, to say the least.

She asked him what he had done – made an example of them to the other staff?

Alexos shook his head. What would the point be? he asked. It could be dealt with after all of this was over, if they even survived this. Why waste energy now? It's not like the scum are going anywhere, right now.

She seemed amused by this. A commissar getting lax on his duty? Wasn't that some sort of direct contradiction?

He shrugged, sure she could sympathize with such a hairline of apathy in the current situation, and said as much. She readily agreed. A brief silence followed.

How utterly pointless, she commented. Discussing the precepts of duty while almost certain death surrounded them on all sides.

If you listen to the judges and sages long enough, he said, you'll realize that that's precisely what they would want you to do in such a situation as this. 'Preventing the degredation of our faith' and the like. Trust me, I spent the first third of my life in the Schola, memorizing that sort of shoka.

Shoka? she asked dubiously. The drink?

No, no, the fungus. It's what the drink's made out of. Tastes even worse. Not an agriworlder?

She sighed and slid into a slightly more slumped position. No. Just another hiver, pulled from the darkness into the Emperor's light. Though I probably haven't had shoka juice since I left it. To tell the truth, I had been looking forward to be back in a hive. It's not something you can forget, you know?

Even if we'd spend most of the time in the underhive, probably, he said. Not somewhere that you'd have come from, I think.

No again, actually. Underhive born and bred is me, until I was shipped off to the Schola.

An underhiver becoming an officer? He raised his eyebrows. How did that happen?

Well—she began, and then closed her mouth again, exhaling. It's hard to explain, she continued haltingly. Let's just say it was—payment for services rendered.

Silence. Alexos pursed his lips awkwardly.

Not that kind of services, she said, smirking. He sighed with relief. No, she continued, it was more... the 'I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you' type of thing.

Legal?

Oh yes, she said emphatically. Most assuredly. It might be best if you don't get inquisitive, though. If you catch my drift.

Aha, he said. I see.

Any other news? she asked. How are the men holding up?

Well enough. They're fighting for spots on the third floor, which they claim has been receiving less enemy fire than the others. The damn chagnats outside have picked up a new tactic, though—using the broken carcasses of their own tanks as cover and sneaking forward, then sniping. We'll be rigging up some spotlights once it gets dark to keep them back.

It that everything?

I think so, major. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to be putting back on my 'mean' face. It was a nice chat, but we have discipline to uphold.

Completely understandable, Commissar Alexos, sir. Though...if we have another one of these talks, please, call me Kay.

He was once again struck by how beautiful she was—not in a 'pretty' way, which contained connotations of 'fragile', but in a manner which was certainly...youthful. That might not be best, he said, not unkindly. Though—hellwarp. Why not, if we're all going to die. In that case, call me Montra.
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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:48 pm

+

Under the Spreading Pluquat Tree (Sweet Fruit and Bitter Memories)

+

“Does not the heat bother you as well, Montra?” Sheka asked, fanning herself as her hansporod mount rolled beneath her. Montra Alexos, beside her, shook his head.

“The day is really quite mild, my dear,” he said, amused. His own hansporod stepped gently over an errant bush. Despite their appearance, the fat, leathery, bulbous things were incredibly light on their feet, and as such, a favorite for use by trysting lovers. Not that his courting of the Lady-Heir Scouras was exactly a secret, or even frowned upon by many, but some things were best enjoyed in privacy. Leaving no tracks went some way toward achieving that.

Their mounts threaded a path through the pluquat groves, which had been planted in orderly rows but allowed to grow into some semblance of wildness. Golden globes of ripe fruit bent the golden-leafed boughs on which they hung. The idyllic quiet was enhanced, rather than broken, by the buzzing of insects and the gentle creak of the pluquat trees in the breeze.

Soon enough, they dismounted and tied up their mounts. They set down their blanket, smiling whenever their eyes met, and feasted on the sweet, sticky fruits. A few, overripe, had already fallen from the tree under which, at Sheka’s insistence, they sheltered.

They laughed as they fed each other pluquats and the juice made fools of them both, dribbling down their chins into their clothes. When Alexos tried to lap what he had spilled on her chest, she laughed all the harder and pushed him away.

They made idle talk after eating, content to simply sit for a time, knitting their hands together and whiling away the day. They watched small, puffy clouds swim through the blue-green sky above.

Eventually, Alexos judged that the time was right. Asking Sheka to wait, he returned to the grazing hansporods. He fished through the saddle-pack, taking out a small package and carrying the surprise gift back to his fiancée. Beads of sweat had beaded on her brow and lip, and he frowned.

“You really are overheating, aren’t you,” he said. “Are you sure that you are not feverish?”

“It is nothing,” she said, attempting to wave away his concern. “Let us see what you have there. I do not doubt that it will prove more interesting than my petty discomfort.”

He gave her the mesh-wrapped package. Sheka shucked off the outer layer, then carefully lifted the lid off the small, ornately-carved box. She gasped gratifyingly.

The torc within was a piece of delicately twisted and filigreed gold, inset with one large ruby. She slipped it on her bare arm, sliding it past her wrist and elbow until it rested against the smooth, tanned flesh of her upper arm.

“Montra,” she breathed, the her right hand tracing its curves, “it is beautiful.”

“It is crude and dim beside your face, my lady,” he replied with playful formality, smiling gently.

“I really do not know what to say. It is absolutely marvelous, Montra.”

“It is a poor representation of my love, and a poorer substitute beside your beauty,” he insisted, nevertheless pleased that she had received the gift so well. “It is no great matter, truly.”

“Perhaps so,” Sheka said, “but…”

She exhaled gently. “But…”

She swallowed heavily, her voice stopped by emotion.

“Sheka,” said Alexos, slightly unsettled by the strength of her response, “I do not measure my love for you by mere material objects, you know that. You need not take so lightly meant a thing so deeply.”

“No,” replied Sheka, shaking her head suddenly, forcefully. “I know that. This blasted heat unsteadies my thoughts, and fills them with impossibilities.”

“You need not fear,” said Alexos. “I will not leave you, no matter how much my father insists that I join the Commissariat. An officer post in the PDF will be just as viable after I finish my studies at the Schola, and will not require leaving Karisas. I shall love you forever, my wife-to-be. This I swear.”

“I should hope so,” began Sheka, hints of her usual wry humor returning. “Were you beginning to doubt your commitment before we even exchange our vows in proper, I would be unsettled all the more.

“I know that you love me, Montra,” she said, serious again. “That is not in doubt, nor shall it be. It is simply that, I, well, I…”

Her voice died.

“I…” she began again, and her voice faded as she lost the train of thought for a second time. Her gaze was flat and listless, and as Alexos met her eyes again, he saw them unfocus and drift away from his face.

“Sheka?” he asked, fear beginning to truly sink its claws into his heart.

She did not reply.

“Sheka? Are you alright?”

Silence.

And then—she screamed.

The air shattered as if it was a pane of glass hit by a stone, and for a second, fleeting, twisting fractures wormed their way through reality. Alexos was thrown backward, his head cracking against the roots of the tree behind him.

Even dazed as he was, he saw Sheka begin to rise into the air. Her psychic scream was ear-splitting and unending, louder and longer than possible from human lungs. Blasts of crushing wind pushed him back, pressing him down and away from his fiancée. Every tree around their blanket bowed away, their ancient trunks protesting loudly. Ripe pluquats rained to the ground in their hundreds. The hansporods pulled up their tether-stake and fled.

Alexos, dizzy and disoriented, reached desperately toward Sheka with one arm, but was otherwise flattened against the tree. Despair tore through his mind: a terrible, uncomprehending, incomprehensible pain. He did not know what was happening—but whatever it was, he already knew Sheka was lost to him. He couldn't feel the tears coursing down his cheeks.

Hanging suspended in the air, her back arched and her muscles rigid, Sheka's scream continued. Her hair splayed eerily out behind her, drifting without gravity. The psychic winds blasted him flat, but she floated in an oasis of calm air, her clothes unruffled. Finally, the scream dwindled and expired, leaving Alexos's ears ringing. She collapsed to the ground and the wind died.

Alexos dragged his battered self over to her limp body and found that her breath was faint but present. Her heart beat rapidly and irregularly in her chest, fluttering in a pattern as unpredictable and weak as that of a butterfly’s wingbeats.

Fallen pluquats lay in a thick carpet. The fruits' rich, tangy scent filled the air. Golden leaves shaken loose from the trees drifted downward twisting, flipping, and landing around the two bodies.

Alexos did not have to wait long before the men from the Black Ships arrived to take her away.

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Re: Toes Incorporated: First Stop for All Things Mossy

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:50 pm

Thanks, Phalanx. Congratulations on managing to slip in before I got the stories posted up!
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Re: Toes Incorporated

Postby Eremite » Sun Mar 27, 2011 5:46 pm

Great idea! Maybe you should add mini-synopses so newcomers can pick what they like the sound of best?
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Re: Toes Incorporated

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 6:25 pm

Good idea. I have so done. Also, looking at my Librarium entry, I've added a link to Infestation.

I intend to gradually repost these stories onto this forum and substitute these links to the old forum out for new ones. Hmm, when I repost, I might as well finally do that rewrite of Infestation that I wanted to do...
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Re: Toes Incorporated

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Mar 27, 2011 6:35 pm

+

The Voices of the Dead

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Mhodru the bray-shaman cursed young Karvol roundly as he limped toward the sweat lodge. The impertinent kid had forced him to call this meeting. Truegods damn the impatience of youth!

The shaman hobbled around the last tree and into the clearing. The bonfire was roaring in the center, attended by Mhodru's much-abused ungor, and the squat, windowless, thick-walled lodge lay off to the right.

“Gagun!” he snapped. The ungor jerked up, eager to avoid a whack from Mhodru's staff. “Is everything ready?”

Gagun nodded eagerly. Mhodru stumped to the lodge itself, and leaned his staff near the entrance. He stooped and brushed aside the several thick layers of cloth that clogged the small opening.

The wooden bowl already waited in the dark interior, full of water and nestled against the lodge's far wall. He shuffled over to it and began dropping in pinches of herbs into the water, chanting under his breath. If the meeting was to proceed as he needed it to, the preparation had to be...exact.

Noises outside as he worked. Barks of greeting and the immature posturing of youth. Braying laughter. So his apprentices were arriving. He continued his work without haste.

When finished, he pulled himself off the ground and shuffled back to the exit. As he crossed the room, he hawked up a lump of wyka root cud from his stomachs. He'd been chewing the numbing plant for a time now, to ease the pain in his arthritic hooves.

As Mhodru pushed his way back through the blankets, he saw that Makka, one of his apprentices, had arrived, and was playfully beating Gagun. Mhodru sneered and reached for his staff.

It wasn't there.

He looked over. Karvol had arrived too. He stood a body-length back, a smug look plastered over his face and the symbol of the shaman's power in his hand.

“Honored Elder,” said Karvol.

“How kind of you to hold my staff for me, apprentice,” growled Mhodru, opening his palm in a tacit command.

“Of course,” smirked Karvol. He twirled the staff insolently once, twice—and swung it at Mhodru.

The bray-shaman caught it in his open hand—how the blow hurt!—and yanked it back to himself. He didn't let his expression change, in spite of the pain. This accursed kid would get his comeuppance yet.

“We begin when Gutag arrives?” asked Karvol. Mhodru knew that Karvol knew, of course, that was when they would have begun. He was undercut by such questions at every turn, these days. You have nothing more to tell us, was the message that they bore. Your wits are dulled by the wyka root. You hold back the herd.

Well, they would be in for a surprise then, wouldn't they? They had pushed too hard now, though. Too hard and too many times. And he still had a trick behind his ears, he thought as he ground the wyka cud between his molars.

“No. We begin when the rocks are hot. Gutag, should he prefer the company of the does, shall simply not be present. We need not delay ourselves for his sake.”

Karvol grunted, and turned to the ungor.

“Gagun!” he spat. “Accursed filth! This fire isn't stoked high enough! The stones need to be glowing white, not orange! I ought to-”

Gutag arrived, eyes downcast.

Mhodru waited roughly two handspans of time—in spite of the fact that the sun was no longer in the sky by which to measure such a quantity—to prove his point to Karvol. The stones were covered by the burning wood and hot coals, but Mhodru had sent Gagun to make the fire at midday, and it was now long past the sun's set. He was sure they had been hot enough that he could have started the lodge the moment he had first arrived in the clearing.

The apprentices grumbled nervously. Mhodru waited as the fire burned lower, chewing his cud. Gagun banked the coals. Finally, he called the young gors into the lodge.

Gagun took his long-handled paddles and dug into the coals, fishing out one porous, white-hot rock at a time. He handed the paddles to Gutag through the blankets—which Makka held open—who placed them in the divot in the lodge's center and returned the paddles to Gagun. They worked deftly and soon had a small heap of the rocks in the room's center. Makka let the blankets down and all four gors sat back as the heat rose.

The stones—which lost their outer fire quickly, fading to a dull reddish-orange—were beautiful. Small flecks of embers stuck in their recesses, burning more brightly than the stones until they exhausted themselves and winked out. The rich wood-smoke filled Mhodru's nostrils, mixing pleasantly with aftertaste of wyka.

None of the apprentices spoke. Good. They had respect for the ancestors, at least.

He took his antler-and-tortoiseshell ladle and scooped the herb-infused water onto the stones. The spirits of the ancestors hissed loudly, breathing out their hatred of the mundane in a great cloud of steam.

The herbs would allow the shaman to speak with the ancestors' voices and his students to hear them, but only if they cleared their minds. Mhodru relaxed against the wall, murmuring sacred chants in the Old Tongue and falling into his trance. Around him, he knew, the apprentices were doing the same.

Ai, but the drugs were swift! He felt dizzy with the heightening and broadening of his senses. Faint colors danced away from the glowing stones in the hut's center and the sussuration of the ancients, all his predecessors, circled through the hut.

They sat and sweated, chests falling and rising as their minds sunk deeper. Mhodru added more water to the stones as necessary. Once, Gagun passed several more stones though the doorway.

At last, Mhodru felt the spirits stir to speak within him.

“The ancestors know why you come, but would have you speak, young Karvol.”

The gor nodded, flicking sweat out of his eyes with his long, delicate eyelashes. “I come, honored spirits, as I have had a dream. An omen.”

“You are not to say if a dream is an omen or a false path,” remonstrated Mhodru. “Leave the ancestors to render their judgments upon that. Tell us, though, your dream.”

“I saw a tower of the weak-men. It had been wrought of Grandfather Stone, but our Mother Wood had woven havoc upon it. The stones were old and worn. Doors rotted and hinges rusted.

“And atop the tower, on the stone teeth along which the sentry slept, there perched a great shrike. Its beak was dipped in blood and its eyes were savage. When it tilted back its head and cried, the Mother Wood swept aside the stone tower and left nothing but ruin.

“This was my dream, honored ancestors.”

Mhodru closed his eyes, seeking to divine the ancestors' answer. “You see this dream as an omen to strike against the weak-men,” he said slowly. “You think they have grown weak and incautious.”

“Yes,” breathed Karvol hungrily.

Ai, how tired Mhodru felt. So tired. This moment should have sung in his veins. The ancestors should have roared with his triumph, rather than whispered more distantly. A twisting pain shot through his stomachs.

But his mind was made up.

“You are overeager,” Mhodru said. “You consider not the herd, but your own bloodlust. You would draw the men of the hammer to search out our homes again, to slay our does and kids and dams! I—and the ancestors—rebuke your dream. It is nothing more than the false wishings of an unblooded kid.”

Karvol bleated angrily and lashed his head, scoring the branches of the roof's bottom layer with his horns. “You are deaf, old goat!” he roared. “Can you not hear their strident chorus? You know my dream as truth! You are afraid to admit my strength!”

The kid dared defy him? Good.

Mhodru bared his teeth. “Come, then. Test your strength against mine. Take up a stone from the pit's center.”

The challenge was laid. The kid had overstepped himself. Now both he and the young fool snatched up one of the stones each—from the newly brought-in and still glowing ones, by tacit agreement. The two other apprentices sat back, watching.

The stones seared. The stones burned. The smell of roasted flesh and boiled blood spilled into the air, swiftly overpowering the scent of the herbs. Mhodru shut away the pain into the back of his mind—like he did for his joints every morning, these days—and stared levelly into Karvol's eyes. The younger gor's face was locked in a fierce rictus. Let them share this pain. It was nothing that Mhodru could not bear.

“What is the sixth Truth?” hissed Mhodru.

“Pain is ecstasy,” grunted Karvol. “Ecstasy is pain!”

“And the seventh?” asked Mhodru. Ai, the pain in his hand! Ai, the unbearable—let it be called ecstasy.

“All things decay. All heart-fires—graaah!—fade.”

“And the eighth! Tell me, whelp!”

“Blood is—blood—no!” Karvol threw the rock viciously, and it shattered against the far wall.

Mhodru spat contemptuously and slipped his still-glowing stone back into the central divot. His palm was a charred, smoking wreck.

“You are nothing to me,” he said. He ladled a new shell of water onto the fire and hawked up his wyka cud.

Something was wrong, though. The pain was returning in waves, each lapping across his mind atop each other, and not receding. The wyka tasted bitter and tainted in his mouth. His mind was wrapped in an impenetrable fog. He sat back, propping himself up against the wall.

“Old fool,” said Karvol, squatting up onto his haunches. “Old, deaf fool. The ancestors sing to me, not you. You have dulled yourself with wyka too long. Now it leaches them their strength. I put something else in the handily-prepared vessel of water for you. A dram of limbas sap—harmless to us, but for you? So dependent on wyka? The two battle in your blood now, and shall leave you dead for it.”

No, no, no, choked Mhodru as he slid sideways to the ground. He managed to gurgle something past his swollen, unresponsive tongue.

“My dream was not of the weak-men,” Karvol said, coming to lean over Mhodru's face, “though we shall feast on them soon. You are the stone tower, and we are the children of Mother Wood. Your time is long past, Mhodru the Senile. You belong among the ancestors now.

“Can you tell me, Mhodru, what the ninth Truth is? Or have you fallen so far that you no longer know?”

Mhodru knew. His jaws would not unlock, though. His eyes would not blink. Karvol's rancid breath filled his nostrils as he labored for another breath.

“I shall refresh your memory. Everything changes.”

A distant shuffling. Moving bodies, and a wave of cool air filling the hut as the blankets were pulled aside.

“Farewell,” drifted the mocking voice, “Honored Elder.”

+
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Re: Toes Incorporated

Postby Gaius Marius » Sun Mar 27, 2011 9:13 pm

Just realized the last name of the guy from Help Me is last name. :lol:
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